Pakistan has deployed paramilitary troops in a town in the country’s eastern Punjab province a day after a Muslim mob attacked and badly damaged a Hindu temple there.
Wednesday’s attack took place in Bhong in Rahim Yar Khan district after a court granted bail to an eight-year-old Hindu boy who was accused of desecrating a Muslim religious school earlier this week.
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Statues were damaged and the temple’s main door was burned down by the mob that said the boy, arrested on charges of intentionally urinating on a carpet in the madrassa’s library, committed blasphemy, an act punishable by the death sentence in Pakistan.
Mere accusations of blasphemy have in the past incited mobs to violence and deadly attacks.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Twitter to “strongly condemn” the attack, announcing that he had ordered the police chief of the Punjab province to arrest the culprits and take “action against any police negligence”.
“The government will also restore the Mandir,” he added.
Strongly condemn attack on Ganesh Mandir in Bhung, RYK yesterday. I have already asked IG Punjab to ensure arrest of all culprits & take action against any police negligence. The govt will also restore the Mandir.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) August 5, 2021
Punjab police official Asif Raza said the police have a list of 50 suspects and promised speedy arrests. He said troops were now guarding the temple and that security has been provided to members of the Hindu community.
Lal Malhi, a Hindu member of Pakistan’s parliament, posted on Twitter that many Hindu families living in Bhong had “vacated the town” fearing for their lives.
Majority of Hindu familes living in Bhong sharif (Sadiqababad-RYK) have vaccated the town fearing of their lives after attack on Hanuman G temple. LEAS must take care of their valuables and property, they have left behind . @ShireenMazari1
— LAL MALHI (@LALMALHI) August 5, 2021
While Muslims and Hindus have mostly lived peacefully in Pakistan, there have been several attacks on Hindu temples in recent years.
In December 2020, a large mob destroyed a century-old Hindu temple in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
Since 1990, at least 79 people have been killed in the name of the blasphemy laws, according to an Al Jazeera tally. Those killed include individuals accused of blasphemy, their family members, their lawyers and judges who have delivered “not guilty” verdicts.